It seems like only a couple of years since you and I were talking about getting started doing work on our own jerseys. Did The Dream Shop become a natural outgrowth of your work on your personal jersey collection?
Short answer: yes. I love the uniforms of MLB, and I am an unapologetic perfectionist. For many years, I sent my jerseys to shops to be customized and restored, and much of the time when I got them back, they didn’t satisfy me.
They might have been OK for the average fan, but details were usually wrong: inexact player name fonts; the width of outlines; the size of the lettering; the placement of front numbers; the wrong arch of names on back; careless, wide stitching; even twill colors that didn’t match.
I found one person — Patsy Elmer from Big Time Jerseys — who would allow me to submit my own artwork for cutting; and for many years, Patsy did my jerseys to my demanding specifications. Her business has grown so big that BTJ no longer takes custom orders, so I picked up the slack.
In 2017 I opened my own shop, investing in all the equipment I needed to do the work right. I started doing all my own jerseys, and some part-time work for others on the side. So far, I have been doing everything: quotes, art, layout, cutting, stitching, and shipping. It’s a real rush.
Starting this year, I now do this full-time, and the volume of orders I am getting is startling to me.
Was this growth a word-of-mouth thing? And did the speed of the growth surprise you?
Completely word-of-mouth; in fact, so far I have been afraid to advertise, for fear of being overwhelmed with work. I didn’t even have a Web site until January 2019.
I treat every jersey as if it were my own. — Bill Henderson
The cold months of the year are typically the slow ones, yet through the winter I have had work coming in nonstop. The thank-you messages I receive are amazing, and collectors are telling each other about my service, because I receive all my business through referrals.
Only two months in, and I am hiring a trained seamstress to help me with the stitching.
You have clearly filled a need for collectors who need restorations or alterations done – and done correctly. Your attention to detail sets The Dream Shop apart.
This sounds cliché, but I treat every jersey like it is my own.
I’ve been known to drop everything to go to the fabric store or Goodwill to look for fabric that matches a worn original to make a nameplate that is a match. I have purchased thousands of buttons at auction to have ones that match when replacements are needed. I have purchased dozens of pairs of game-used pants in every shade of gray and white (through use and bleaching) to match the jerseys that come in.
I also have a great deal of experience doing graphic art. My reproductions, lettering, and team scripts are as accurate as can be. I realize that my skill in this area is next to impossible to find.
I provide every client with a pre-cutting, computer-generated art proof of how their jersey will look when finished. As far as I know, I’m the only one who does that. It’s such an important step, and it has prevented many mistakes! A misspelled name, tweaks to a name arch, or even a misplaced player number — all of these get caught before anything is sewn and shipped.
The biggest compliment to me is to have a collector send me one rare jersey to restore, then follow up with five more to do. I must be doing something right to earn the repeat business of passionate collectors.
On average, how much of your time is spent on Dream Shop work in a given week?
Right now, I work about 15 hours a day, almost seven days a week, which is probably normal for any startup business. I keep looking for things that I can do faster and better, and work I can hire someone to help me with.
The funny thing is, it doesn’t feel like work. — Bill Henderson
And how do you manage to fit in time for your “real” job, as well as family activities and your other hobbies, and your work on The Guide and its resources?
Well, now this is my “real” job. I had a fantastic 35-year career as a marketing executive for several international companies. I grew weary of traveling constantly, and of the rat race in general. No one has figured out how to live forever, so I made the decision to retire from the corporate world and do what I like.
I always make time for family. Balance is important, and the world will not end if someone’s order goes out a day later because I have something else to do. I play the violin in several local orchestras, and I also restore automobiles and write technical articles on automotive topics. I keep busy.
With 1,000+ jerseys in your collection, and all your varied interests, you must have an understanding wife.
My wife is an angel, pure and simple. She tolerates my penchant to take over every square inch of the house and garage with my hobbies. We have been married 33 years, and we complement each other pretty well. I’ve committed to keep my collection at 1,000 jerseys; and when I did an inventory on them last month, I saw that I was probably 200 over that mark, so we are going to do some spring cleaning.
You have mentioned Patsy Elmer of Big Time Jerseys as a mentor. How has she helped you?
Patsy has passion. We are so alike: we are perfectionists. Patsy will do anything to make a customer happy, and never have I heard her say that something is “good enough.” She is the only person I have worked with in this business who will gladly — not grudgingly — redo something if it is found to have been done wrong. And she makes sure that she changes her practices so the same mistake doesn’t happen again.
Although we live thousands of miles apart, she has visited my shop, and I have been to hers. I’ll get an order and realize that the color of purple I have doesn’t match, and I’ll call her and she’ll say, “oh— that is Vikings Purple, not Colorado Rockies Purple. I’ll send you a yard of it.” And she does, right away.
Patsy has earned the business of multiple pro teams through her attention to detail and tireless work ethic. Although I do not aspire to do that, I am not at all surprised at her success. I admire her very much.
You already had a successful Facebook presence. What led you to develop and launch the Dream Shop site?
These days, if you don’t have a Web site, you don’t “exist.” Launching https://TheDream.Shop allows me to post examples of my work; a handy price estimator; and the ability to show the quality and diversity of my work.
You authenticate jerseys; you author a 4,000+ page guide about game-worn MLB jerseys; you’re researching jerseys from the “flannel era.” And you now do quite a bit of custom work on jerseys. Where do you see all this going? Will it overtake your “real” job at some point?
This is now my “real” job!
I plan to write companion volumes of MLB jersey research, one team at a time, going back through the 1960s, 1950s, and before. This is difficult research to do, because original examples of these jerseys are scarce, and there are far fewer photos from these times.
To do this research, I need to learn to manage the workload. I can’t work 15 hours a day customizing jerseys and still have time for this project. I am still figuring out how to do this.
Do you just do MLB work, or do you do jerseys from other sports?
I am asked daily to sew NFL, NHL, and other sports’ jerseys. I have done a few, and I realize that I just can’t dilute my attention by expanding too much. I don’t have the expertise to know what is “right” for these other sports. Besides the time I must spend researching what the fonts look like, and how tall they are, and how to get them, I recognize I do not have the nameplate fabric or all the proper colors of tackle twill to do the lettering.
I am sticking to MLB, and I will do it the best I can.
What keeps you up at night?
The prospect of people misrepresenting my work fraudulently as “game worn” because of its near-perfection. Unfortunately, it has already happened, and was submitted by a bad actor. Many examples of my work passed examination by one of the best-known names in authentication to be declared as original and team-issued. I noticed them at auction, and the FBI got involved. It took a lot of my time, and it made me angry.
I now mark and document all of my work in several ways, to help prevent fraud and to catch those who might try to perpetrate it.
Are there any MLB restoration orders you have turned away?
I have recommended against restoring several original jerseys, because I believed that it would destroy history to try to make them more “perfect” with shiny new lettering. I just could not do that work in good conscience. I believe that things are only original once, and each jersey has a story to tell.
I also refuse to alter or recreate original manufacturer- or team-tagging — for any reason. Nothing good can come from this, and I just won’t do it.
Is it still fun?
If it wasn’t, I would not have left my corporate career to do it! Yes, it is still fun. It does not feel like work. I love what I do.
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